Rodney was in so much trouble. He knew that before the pounding headache started up. The first tendrils of someone’s presence inside his mind had a painful intensity Rodney had never experienced before, an unprecedented attack Rodney wasn’t sure he had enough defenses against.
What are you? reverberated in Rodney’s head. The strong female voice, vicious and inhuman, was echoed by what felt like millions of male voices, all speaking over each other. The female forced her way further through Rodney’s defenses, his walls ripping like wet paper in front of the strength she was pulling from her Hive. Where are you?
If the attack hadn’t come so suddenly, Rodney would have put the pieces together sooner, but it took her starting to rummage in the parts of his mind she could access for Rodney to catch on about who and what she was: Wraith Queen.
Another of Rodney’s walls went down, crumbling more quickly than Rodney could build up new ones. There were so few layers between them now, it was hard for Rodney to hold on. Even preoccupied with his mental defenses Rodney could feel himself crumple to the floor, hands on his head, chanting, “No, no, no, nonononono.”
“Rodney?” The voice came from far away, as Rodney was too concentrated on maintaining his last shields against total annihilation. “Doctor McKay? Are you alright?”
John, flashed through his mind. Teyla!
Thousands of voices picked up on that, Teyla’s name sounding through him endlessly as the Hive repeated it over and over. His last wall was barely holding up against the onslaught, and the pain was overwhelming, but Rodney clung to awareness with all the stubbornness he had. Unconsciousness wasn’t going to be an escape, it wouldn’t save him. Rodney could feel the Wraith claw away at him, straining everything he was to the breaking point. If the Wraith Queen got through, there wasn’t going to be anything left of Rodney to come back to.
Little human, the Wraith Queen sneered, the words cutting through the susurration of the Hive. Stop fighting. You are mine.
No, Rodney yelled back at her, using his full potential. The Wraith Queen recoiled, but his sense of elation was short-lived as she laughed into his mind, lazily tearing huge cracks into his last shield.
You are just one. We are many. You cannot withstand me, she purred.
In his desperation to get away, to stop her, to stop the pain, Rodney curled up in a vain attempt to protect his physical body while his mind fled, intent on hiding somewhere, anywhere. He encountered something familiar and soothing, something that instantly curled around him protectively. From afar, the Wraith Queen screeched angrily, hurling herself against Rodney’s defenses one last time before the soothing darkness surrounded Rodney completely and blocked her out.
Yes, Rodney sent to her, I can. Safe in his victory he let go, slipping into unconsciousness.
Rodney woke up slowly. His head was pounding; the little light coming through his eyelids didn’t help. He didn’t remember why his head should hurt like this. All he got was that something warm and wonderful had wrapped itself around him. It had saved him, cocooning him and protecting him from … something. Frowning, he tried to remember from what, but all that did was hurt his head even more.
The voice was too loud, accompanied by stray thoughts that Rodney couldn’t block out. They went straight through his torn shield – until something familiar reared its head, and cut those thoughts off. Whatever it was, it felt like balm on his battered consciousness.
“Rodney?” the voice asked again.
Couldn’t they just leave him alone? Rodney couldn’t even think properly, much less open his eyes. His head felt very much like someone had stuck a red hot poker through one of his eyes and stirred his brain a bit, and yet he was supposed to talk. Great, thanks. People were so stupid.
“Come on, lad, I know you’re awake.”
Carson. Of course. “Go ‘way.” Huh. He’d meant to snap that, but instead it had come out slurred and unclear.
“Thank God, Rodney, you had us worried sick. What the hell happened?”
Refusing to open his eyes, or even move his head, Rodney took a shallow breath. “Carson, shut up and go away,” he said, carefully enunciating every word. Pain stabbed through his head with each word, but he ignored it.
He’s only trying to help.
Rodney didn’t care. The headache was a bitch, but really, his whole body ached in places he didn’t know even existed. He felt like he’d bruised his brain somehow, and he still couldn’t remember what had happened. Dimly, he heard multi-voiced laughter at the back of his head.
At that, Rodney sat up, eyes opening wide. Memories flooded back in a rush, the Wraith Queen, her attack on him, how she’d nearly gotten through and destroyed him. Then, in another flash, he remembered reaching out, desperate to survive, desperate for help. And he’d … no, he couldn’t have. There was no way that was even possible.
Don’t ask me, I have no clue how this happened, John answered instantly.
Rodney looked around frantically, panicked when he found John lying in the bed to his left. His eyes were closed; he looked like he was sleeping.
Carson caught the direction of Rodney’s gaze as he stepped into Rodney’s line of sight. “He’s fine, Rodney, he’s just resting, that’s all.” But a sliver of doubt was broadcast so loudly Rodney couldn’t help but hear it, stunning Rodney into letting Carson press him down into the bed.
Laughter escaped him; it didn’t sound pretty. “That’s all?” he asked, hiccupping with it. “That’s all?” Carson didn’t understand anything. John wasn’t asleep, nor was he resting. Rodney didn’t know what exactly John was doing, but one thing was sure: there was no way he could be having telepathic contact with John if he was asleep. Worry pushed away the pounding headache as he fought his way past Carson’s hands on his and stumbled towards John’s bed.
“We need a mind healer,” he snapped at Carson who was holding onto Rodney’s elbow. His hands found John’s shoulders. For a moment Rodney wanted to shake him, wake him up, make him open his eyes, do something. Instead, John’s flimsy infirmary shirt slipped a little, and Rodney’s fingers brushed against warm skin. The world stood still.
Hi there, John greeted him warmly. He was standing right in front of Rodney, close enough to touch, dressed in standard gear, tac vest, P-90 and all. He bounced a little on his toes, looking unperturbed by the darkness that surrounded them, the same kind of darkness that had protected Rodney from the Wraith Queen.
He’d really done it. Oh, God, he’d actually . . . I’m so sorry, Rodney babbled, trying to convey how he hadn’t done that on purpose. He hadn’t meant to kill John.
He’d killed John. He’d–
“Mind healer? What do we need a mind healer for?” Carson asked, his voice coming from somewhere very, very far away.
At that moment Rodney had more important things to do than explain to Carson just how badly he’d fucked up. Reaching for John, Rodney ran his phantom hands over John’s body, checking for tears in his consciousness. There were stories about telepaths ripping others apart in attacks, leaving the victims incomplete and hurting for the rest of their lives. It was nothing Rodney had wanted to do to John, who was already not exactly the social standard.
Hey, I heard that, John told him, frowning deeply at him.
That wasn’t right. John was pretty much as headblind as they got. The only sort of psychic connection he technically could make was with Ancient tech, but he’d “heard that” when Rodney hadn’t been directing it at him?
That’s not good, Rodney said. The fact that he had found no psychic injuries didn’t mean that there was no damage.
He broke the connection to John in a heartbeat. “Carson, stop asking annoying, pointless, and time-consuming questions. Just get me a mind healer. Now,” he snapped without turning around. Crap, if Rodney couldn’t fix this . . .
Not that it isn’t fun listening to you yell at people, but what the hell is going on, Rodney? John asked, a ghost finger tapping his shoulder in a demand for attention that was impossible to ignore. Without fanfare, Rodney found himself back in that dark place, face to face with John, who was now glowering at Rodney.
I don’t know! I was attacked by a Wraith Queen with a whole Hive at her back. She was going to flay my consciousness open and take all the information she wanted from my mind. I panicked and … I don’t remember what exactly I did, Rodney told John, trying not to show his fear.
You were worried you’d killed me earlier, John said with a wave of consternation coming from him, almost like he thought he might be dead already.
As a psi-null, John should have been unreadable without some effort on Rodney’s part. The fact that he was actually transmitting directly to Rodney was … impossible.
For a moment they stared at each other in an uncomfortable silence. This, Rodney finally said, waving his hand at the nothing around them, is a representation of the bond between our consciousnesses. It’s not a state that is normally reachable with psi-null partners. Right now your body is in the infirmary. John’s eyes went wide. Carson thinks you’re resting. Rodney couldn’t help but snort derisively. But really, if you’re resting, then there’s no way you could be here. I think that– he broke off, afraid to actually voice it.
Rodney swallowed heavily. I think I may have ripped you out of your body, trapping your consciousness in myself, using you as … protection against the Wraith Queen’s attack. This bond is the result. There. He’d said it. He’d put into words the one thing he so hoped to be wrong about.
The following silence was oppressing.
Then John laughed.
This isn’t funny, I might as well have killed you! Rodney snapped. A bullet would probably have been a kindness compared to this half-life I’ve sentenced you to – could you please stop laughing?
Suddenly a hand touched Rodney’s, squeezing it. John wasn’t just laughing inside his head, he was also laughing in the real world.
What … Stunned, Rodney allowed the link to fade a bit, the infirmary overlaying the darkness. John was looking straight at him, head cocked to the right.
“How did you do that? Why didn’t you do that earlier?” Rodney asked, his voice harsh with unshed tears and worry.
Well, I kinda liked it there, John answered through their inexplicable link. “It was peaceful.”
Carson chose that moment to make his presence known with a pleased, “I guess this means all is well.”
If Rodney sounded a bit hysterical when he started laughing, he certainly couldn’t be blamed for it. Nothing was “well” at all.
The small lab wasn’t his usual one, but it was perfect to tinker a bit with some of the Ancient tech they hadn’t managed to get working yet. Not that he thought he’d get his current project to work now, considering he’d been looking at the same piece of Ancient crap for half an hour without much success.
“Are you hiding from me?” a voice asked from behind him.
Rodney didn’t have to turn around to know that John was casually leaning on the door of the lab Rodney was currently trying to work in. Their bond was annoying. More than annoying, it was terrifying and invasive. Nothing he did could stop the constant stream of information pouring in from John.
He knew everything. When John took a leak. When John was hungry, when he was thirsty, or when he was bored and wanted Rodney to occupy him with something cool. He knew when John hated the food that was served, when he felt good despite the dozens of bruises blooming all over his body from an especially grueling sparring session, and when he felt tired.
Most frustratingly, Rodney also knew when John was horny.
“No, I’m not hiding from you,” Rodney snapped in answer. There was no hiding from John. John always knew where he was. Generally Atlantis – the traitor – told him; now the bond also told John where Rodney was. A gentle ‘ping’ as John tickled a strand of it had the stupid thing pulling John to wherever the hell Rodney was, whenever he wanted.
God, Rodney had known there was a reason why he’d never intended to bond. This constant bombardment was unbearable. He’d never heard of any other telepath feeling this way. It was like –
“Did you – You broadcast all that on purpose!” Rodney accused, epiphany and betrayal coming together. He dropped the screwdriver and whirled around. “Why would you do that to me?”
Because you won’t listen to me, Rodney. Remember when I tried to talk to you when I got out of the infirmary?
Rodney tried to shut the proverbial door in John’s face, but all that happened was that John flinched ever so slightly.
Come on, talk to me, John said instead. When Rodney only glared at him, he whined, I saved you from a Wraith Queen, Rodney!
“Stop projecting,” Rodney pleaded. He couldn’t take it anymore. What he’d done was … there were no words for it. Elizabeth had said that she understood. The Telepathic Council had let it be known that an action under such duress was not punishable. Even John had said he didn’t blame Rodney. But . . .
But what Rodney had done was inexcusable. He had ruined John’s life. He’d tied their minds together in a bond so tight that even a mind healer couldn’t find the seams. He’d forced John into the role of protector without consulting John’s opinion. None of that was anything Rodney could ever forgive himself for, even if John apparently had.
“I saved you from a Wraith Queen, Rodney,” John said, crossing his arms. “So, you owe me a talk.”
Sensing that there was no way out of this, Rodney sagged a little. “Fine,” he said. John took a few steps into the room. The door slid closed behind him, the usual whooshing sound an omen of doom in Rodney’s ears.
Still, he pressed his lips together in a show of protest: John was the one who wanted to talk, not Rodney. But John only smiled. God, what did it take to make that man angry at him? He’d destroyed his life! He deserved an execution! John should be absolutely furious, but instead he was smiling at Rodney like . . . like that.
“It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t mean to do this,” John started.
Apparently Rodney was furious enough for the two of them. “It doesn’t matter if I did it on purpose or not,” he hissed, “they should have executed me for doing this to you. It’s the only way that you’ll ever get your own mind back from me, John. You, a psi-null, don’t deserve to be bonded to an asshole who’d rather misuse your mind as a shield from a Wraith Queen than be ripped apart and–”
“Give away the position of Earth,” John interrupted heatedly. “Stop being so fucking stupid, Rodney, you can do better. She’d have had access to everything you are, she’d have had you shoot us first. Do you think she’d have stopped there? I don’t. I think she’d have gone for anything useful in your head once she was in.” He glared at Rodney before continuing with a shaky breath. “There’s more inside your head than just Earth, Rodney. You did the only right thing you could have done in the position you were in.”
“Shut up,” John told him. Somehow his hands were now gripping Rodney’s arms. “If you’d bothered listening to what I’ve been trying to tell you since you ran out of the infirmary like a Wraith was after you, then you’d know that I don’t mind. This.” Their bond was wide open. Rodney hadn’t even known that John could do that, open himself to Rodney in this way, but he didn’t have time to think about it as John sent everything he hadn’t been able to say out loud.
iloveyouiloveyouiloveyouiloveyou, John chanted into Rodney’s mind, accompanied by so much that Rodney could barely comprehend all of it. Affection. Friendship. Love. Pride in what they did. Pride in Rodney. Want, so much raw need.
Rodney didn’t know who moved first, but it didn’t matter when their lips met. The bond between them thrummed with all the things neither of them had dared to say over the last few years. As John’s hands let go of him to slip under his shirt, finding bare skin to run over, Rodney stopped trying to resist. All the fear and the tension drained out of him as he accepted that this was happening. John wanted this. He wanted this so much Rodney’s body and mind practically sang with it. The door between them opened, the lab darkened around them as their minds met in the nowhere land of their bond. It was warmer than Rodney remembered, so welcoming and peaceful. And there was John, standing right where he’d been before, dressed the same way, like the black BDUs and the tac vest were part of the way he chose to see himself as.
Rodney broke away from their kiss enough to say, “So you really like it there?”
John answered by tightening his grip on Rodney closer and smiling. Shut up and kiss me, Rodney.
With a roll of his eyes, Rodney obeyed.
Maybe things wouldn’t be so terrible after all.